Column: ‘Captain Phillips’ another jewel in Hanks’ crown


I’ve been hesitant to see “Captain Phillips,” because Hollywood just churned out two edge-of-your-seat recent-past real-life dramas in 2012 – Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” (about the Navy SEAL attack on Osama bin Laden’s compound), and Ben Affleck’s Best Picture Winner “Argo” (about a little-known rescue of some Americans during the Iranian hostage crisis). I thought, “Do we really need another one?” I was somewhat hoping “Captain Phillips” would disappear quickly so I could review other holiday fare, but alas, it’s a hit.

So I dragged myself back to my local cinema, and you know what? I’m glad I did. This is a supremely interesting, very well-acted, and (yes) edge-of-your-seat drama about a small band of Somalian pirates’ 2009 attack on an American ship, and their subsequent capture of Captain Richard Phillips. The U.S. Navy is brought in to rescue Phillips, but the pirates demand money. And so the tense situation unfolds.

I don’t know how much more praise I can heap on Tom Hanks, who plays the disciplined and intelligent captain to a tee. When Hanks won back-to-back Best Actor Oscars for 1993’s “Philadelphia” and 1994’s “Forrest Gump,” I thought his career had certainly peaked. But then came “Apollo 13.” And then “Cast Away.” And now “Captain Phillips.” How many more times can Hanks turn in performances above and beyond anyone’s expectations? He is certainly one of our finest actors ever, because he exudes confidence while remaining a likeable guy – an everyman, in much the same manner as James Stewart.

Hanks has always seemed like the proverbial nice guy, and now I know that my impression of him is true. When my wife and I visited the Paramount Studio this summer in Hollywood, we saw the bench where Forrest Gump told his story to various listeners waiting for the bus. We learned that when Paramount placed the bench in a visible location, Hanks showed up one morning, dressed as Forrest, so that any Paramount employee could have his or her picture taken sitting next to Forrest Gump. Not too many actors would spend a day giving back to the studio employees in this fashion. Get a picture of Marlon Brando doing the same thing.

As far as the Somali pirates are concerned, I was glad director Paul Greengrass used actual Somali actors rather than African-American actors. His casting choice not only gives us a sense of authenticity, but the accents add to the sense of urgency and drama. Pirate leader Barkhad Abdi is particularly convincing.

I can’t say too much more about the plot without giving away important details, but suffice to say if you enjoyed “Zero Dark Thirty,” you’ll love “Captain Phillips.” It’s not as strong as “Argo,” but it’s certainly worth a see, and it’s yet another crowning achievement for Tom Hanks.

Now for a humorous sidenote. I’ve been reviewing films since my college days in the early 1980’s, and I’ve seen enough to pick up on what I call “editing errors” – minor details that don’t make sense, and should have been discovered during the editing process. “Captain Phillips” has a doozy. When the four pirates board the ship, Phillips and his crew have high-pressure water hoses spraying them. The pirates somehow manage to connect their rudimentary step-ladder to the ship, and climb aboard – in fairly turbulent high seas, under spraying water from the ship. After initially securing the ship’s crew, one of the pirates takes a cigarette from behind his ear and smokes it. Now I wonder how that cigarette managed to remain dry enough to smoke during their perilous entry onto the ship – let alone his lighter. But I digress. Go see “Captain Phillips.” You’ll be glad you did.